I’ve been thinking about memory, naturally. I often do anyway, and Dylan Farrow’s open letter has brought it to the fore again. I was thinking yesterday about how non-specific and narrative and composite my memories are, at least the older ones. I set myself a question: can I summon up a clear distinct visual memory that I know to be one memory, like a photograph?
I tried hard for some time, and couldn’t do it. I suspect it can’t be done. If I see something only once, I don’t properly remember it at all. If I see it repeatedly, I can visualize it, but I can tell the visualization is composite – it’s not a one-time look that gets frozen.
Is anybody else different?
Probably not. If memory were not like that, people would probably not take so many pictures. We like pictures so much because we don’t remember what we see.
It’s sad, isn’t it.
I’ll tell you what I can remember way better than I can remember anything visual, and that’s navigation. How to get to places. I can go for walks in my head. It’s quite a good game – “Suppose you’re in Ladbroke Grove, and you decide to walk to Highgate. Go.”
It all makes sense, I’m guessing. Composite memory is plenty good enough for facial recognition and other kinds of recognition – in fact better, because you don’t get a false negative just because an expression is different or the wind is blowing.
Well, it’s stupid to babble about it, I have multiple books that spell all this out, and I’ve even read some of them. But then one has to remember it all…